Ugab Rhino Camp

About an hour North of Hentiesbaii we veer right from the coast towards Ugab Rhino camp. We’re on a black rhino mission and Mark is super pumped. We know it’s rare to spot one but how awesome would that be?!

The temp is back up to 33 degrees and climbing as we travel inland. A little more dirt but still a whole lot of nothing.

There’s a Rhino camp over there somewhere? How is this landscape going to change? There’s nothing. Those hills are a long ways off. The soil starts to get more red. At the 25km to destination mark on the map we start to see some shrubs and little trees. We close in on the hills and now there is yellow grass and the occasional flower.

The landscape continues to shift as we get into the hills. Small tree croppings and large rocks. The road turns from the soft dirt to mostly rock now. Oh shit they’re getting larger. We’re close to the camp, just a few kilometers. What a crazy landscape shift from the Skeleton Coast beach to the red dirt and white grass to these boulders.  

Ok the road is getting even worse. Boulders and large blocky rocks ahead. Is that camp seriously up this way? This is crazy.

We get to an absolute doozy of a hill. Mark takes a pause before attempting it. It’s just a couple of kilometers away now to the Rhino Camp. There’s no other way around, we have to take this nasty hill. The GPS just says elephants/flash floods. Peter and Jamie hop out to help navigate Belinda and Mark around the rocky mess. Slow and steady, we roll the tires over each jagged stone. Giant blue slabs cut in cubes by erosion. Blowing a tire or damaging the truck out here in the middle of nowhere would really suck. Just as the sun is setting too.”You know, she did call ahead and there was no answer”, “Yes. I’m aware. Thank-you. We’re still going”

Mark makes it passed the rough part of the hill with only a few minor scares. Everyone gets back in and we pull around the bend. There are a few tiny thatched huts and dome domiciles. Have we found this mythic Rhino Camp?

We pull through the canyon and the area opens up into a nice open space. There are a handful of makeshift buildings and fences. Folk art-style metal statues of animals are littering the place randomly and there are large elephant and rhino skulls decorating the buildings. Man, this place is amazing. What a find. Right on the edge of the wild too by a dried up river bed. 

Ok, let’s see if there’s anyone around. I can see a few fenced in campsites here and there. Looks like one might be occupied. We’ll have to scout out the best one.

Mark and Peter find a guy to ask about the camp. We can take whichever one we want and just leave a donation when we leave. That’s cool. We drive Belinda around and find a nice one at the very edge of the wilderness beyond. It’s a square fenced in area with a nice big tree for shade and the river just behind.

“Hey guys, you should come check out this sign..”

We get things loosely arranged and go over to meet the neighbors. It looks like there’s just one other vehicle here tonight. Standard family of four w brother and sister. The dad comes right out to say hi. Seems Danish. He’s seen a lot of sun. Has Papa Smurf small round glasses. He says they’re here tonight and then travelling on to Twyfelfontein. It’s about 4 hours away, but up roads like that one coming in. Will probably take all day. “What’s over there?”, “Well, I don’t know. We’re just going to go find out.” I like it.

“Seen any animals about?”, “I talked to the front gate guy and he said the elephants and rhinos just moved about 50 K North West. There were lions in that area too, but with them you never know. Fifty isn’t out of their range at all”, “Alright, should be an interesting night”, “Could be. You never know.” Nice chap. We wish them a good night and safe travels. The teenage kids wave from the camp.

On the way back to our camp I kick something heavy and metal in the sand. Bend down and pick it up. Huh, it’s a Leatherman Surge. Damn, someone must have been pissed to drop this. It’s a little clogged up with sand but could come in handy.

The sunset behind the rock formation next to us sends up these brilliant receding fingers of light.

It’s a warm night. No bugs really. We get a fire going to cook on and maybe just to settle the nerves a bit. This thatched fence isn’t really the fortress you want against wild animals. Amazing how your senses come alive. Every smell and sound is amplified thanks to that damn sign in our camp about elephants and lions.

Moon is getting full. We set up shop.

Mostly what we start to notice is an atmosphere of almost total silence. No air traffic. Nothing. The occasional insect or bird sound. No white noise or hum of electricity. The sparks and crackle of the fire, the clinking of ice in our metal cups, and that’s it. Well, and Jamie wins fart chair roulette tonight, so we get to hear a giant ripper every time he gets up. Other than those things, total silence. It’s rare.

Camp’s fixed up, fire’s going, time to make some negronis, then dinner. Ahh these negronis are fantastic

Peter sets up a long exposure of the camp in the full moon with our blue lantern and red light district LEDs. The stars pop behind and it comes out pretty fucking sick.

We picked up a lot of good looking grub back in Windhoek and tonight’s camp meal is coming together wonderfully.

Peter and Jamie man the braai filled with lamb loins while Mark and I put together some gorgonzola gnocchi with garlic, peppers, and bacon. There’s also a side of butternut squash and peppers. We’re going for gold tonight.

“You butternut squash my dinner, Peter!”, “More fucking dad jokes, eh?”, “Er’day booooi!”

I don’t think headlamp lighting quite does it justice, but it is magnificent all the same.

Whoa that pepper is hot. Douse it w gorgonzola gnocchi. This is delish, a really well balanced meal. Mark pours up the Wolftrap and the palate is complete.

We get things cleaned up and settle in with a round of beers. Ahhh we’re killing it. This camp is awesome, I wonder if we’ll see any animals tonight.

Peter gets up and walks passed the fence to take a leak. A minute later he’s yelling, “Holy Fuck! Guys! GUYS!! Come take a look at this! I just pissed on a giant scorpion. Like, the size of my hand! Get over here!”

Mark grabs his UV light and we bolt over. Holy fuck, look at this beast!

This thing is gigantic! I lean in to get a pic so I can see it’s real colors. “Ahhh dude, you are getting your hand way to close to that monster!”

Whooooooa. This guy is bigger than my phone. Like, a whole ‘nother half. Sheeeeeeeeeet

We stare at the behemoth for a while and then head back to the fire. “That UV light is super cool”, “Yeah, makes bugs glow in the dark. Looks rad through tonic bottles too.”

Doesn’t seem to be any animals about. Or maybe it’s too early? “Price is Right time check?”, “11:11”, “Wow dude, you nailed it”, “I always seem to look at the clock at 11:11”, “Yeah i think that’s a thing”, “Synchronicity?”, “Something like that. Or some false spirituality but it happens too often to be coincidence”, “We’ll all be killed by lions tonight so who cares”, “That’s the spirit!”

Mark and Jamie are getting ready for bed but Peter and I are still antsy. We decide to mix a cocktail and take our new machete on a nature walk to the riverbed. See if there are any fresh tracks.

“Vacation Vigilantes!!”

(yes, we’re being drunk idiots again. This is a seriously dumb idea).

Whoa, cool. The riverbed is like dried up clay. Crackly, looks like a skeleton. 

We spot some giant paw prints and elephant or rhino tracks. No idea if those are preserved in this riverbed or from the herds that were 50 clicks off like that Dane dude said. 

We keep trekking and when the headlamp shines a light on one of the trees a sound picks up. Turn my head away and the sound goes away. No way. I’m not that drunk. Am I? I turn towards the tree again. The sound ‘turns on’ again. Nooooo. Whaaaa? “Dude, are you seeing this? I mean, hearing this”, “I’m seeing and hearing. Do it again”, “Shhhhh….”, “I think there are insects in the tree reacting to the light”, “Should we get closer?”, “If this was a horror movie..” We go closer to the tree. Walking with the light shined away from it so as not to agitate.. whatever it is in there. 

I get close, under the limbs, and slowly look up at the tree branches. Oh shit, it’s more of those giant crickets like the ones we saw in Spreetshoogte Pass. Suddenly several birds, or maybe bats, take flight from the tree and scare the living shit out of me. “Faaaaaaack!” Shaking. Heart pounding. Scene was freaky enough, I really wasn’t expecting that.

This tree is like a giant version of the spiky death trap trees by our camp in Sossusvlei. Africa is filled with crazy shit.

Ok, that should do it. My nerves are shot and our drinks are done. I think we’ve tempted the wild enough and survived tonight. We get back to camp in a semi-circle walk. We find a little sign about the Tusk Force. This place is really an incredible camp. And it’s for a good cause too. We should leave a sizable donation when we take off tomorrow. Support it and the rhinos.

“The rocky hills look like striped ice cream” in the moonlight but it’s too dark for a pic and we’re without the wherewithal at the moment. “Dude, we’ll be in Etosha tomorrow”, “That is going to be badass”, “Yeah, I hope we see a ton of cool animals”, “Yeaaaah…..”

Ow. Sting in my shoulder. I flinch. Did something bite me? Oh Mark punched me in the shoulder. Was I asleep? “You wanna sleep up there?” he points to the ladder and bunk, “Oh shit. We fell asleep?”, “Yeah, I was getting up to take a leak and you guys are both passed out in the chairs down here”, “Fuck. That is reeeeeeally stupid what with scorpions and lions around”, “Yeah, no kidding.”

Fa-shit can’t let that happen again. “Peter let’s go”, I punch him in the arm and somehow he falls over in his chair. I can’t help but laugh (and get a pic). He’s so confused. “Wha? What’s going on?”, “We fell asleep in our chairs like lion bait”, “Oh shit mate. Not smart”, “Nope, let’s go”, “Etosha tomorrow?”, “Yep.”

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